Hudson River School landscape murals are the stuff of inspirational posters with cliché sayings like, “Every great journey begins with the first step”. Putting Thomas Kincaid paintings to shame, they are masterful landscapes that are incredibly detailed. Although infused with a high level of drama, they are honestly rendered.
Spanning the decades of the mid- and late 19th century, these loosely connected groups of artists were known as the Hudson River School based on paintings that depicted the Hudson River Valley and the surrounding area, including the Catskill, Adirondack, and the White Mountains.
These artists were sometimes commissioned to paint panoramic scenes for advertisements for railroads and hotels to encourage the adventuresome to take sightseeing trips West. The romanticized images portrayed the land beyond the Mississippi to seem like an adventure even more exotic than a trip across the Atlantic to Europe.
The depiction of Nature on a grand scale perfectly expressed the Victorian American’s romantic view of the West and a desire for a spiritual connection between God and the world they lived in.
Painted in 1873 by Albert Bierstadt, Donner Lake from the summit was a commission for a railroad company. It was viewed by over 600 people a day and generated enough money for the Francisco Art Association to fund an art school, eventually becoming the California School of Design.
For us, artists such as Thomas Cole were masters of landscape painting and through their paintings we have learned volumes about the subtleties of color, palette, brushwork and composition.
Of course there are enormous differences between painting on a 2’ x 3’ canvas with oil paints and painting on a wall with acrylic house paints. The trick is to decide what the end result should be and carefully plan the layers of painting to eventually end with the targeted results. The sequence of steps is many and has nothing to do with inspirational moments and a flurry of paint being swished onto the wall.
Here’s how we painted this sky:
- Cover entire sky area with a light wash of cobalt blue at the top and blend into a light wash of pale aqua blue near the horizon line.
- Before the paint dries, sponge off a few horizontal shapes near the horizon line and larger puffy shapes higher up in the sky.
- Apply a mauve color with a sea sponge in the areas created with the subtractive sponging. With a large 4” brush, softly blend the mauve clouds by brushing over them with a clear base paint in a crisscross way.
- Paint highlights in a warm beige color on the upper edges of the clouds and softens and blends.
- Paint shadows in a medium warm gray on the lower edges and possibly other inside areas of the clouds. Soften and blend.
- Glaze over the entire upper sky with a transparent cerulean blue with a large 4” brush and carefully wipe off of the clouds with a damp rag.
- Glaze over the entire lower sky with a transparent layer of phthalo green in the same way as with the cerulean blue glaze. Carefully wipe off of the clouds with a damp rag.
Artists are indeed right-brain thinkers, but mural painting requires much-left brain work. We calculate our moves way in advance so that each layer is building on the previous one. Trees, animals, foliage, rocks, all wait until we are about halfway finished with the mural and will be painted on richly painted skies. This kind of complexity and depth only happens with many transparent layers, much like the oil glazes used by Bierstadt and Cole to achieve the perfect afternoon glow in the western sky.
Artist’s oil paint is usually a good deal more opaque than our acrylic house paints. Achieving solid green leaves over the sky painting requires that they be first base coated in a white or light pastel green, and then glazed with an intensely green pigmented transparent paint. This results in the leaves looking both luminous and solid at the same time.
There is so much to appreciate and learn from the Hudson River School’s large body of work. Each time we produce a landscape mural, there is always plenty of new information that can be mined from their paintings. They have inspired us to paint full-color panoramic scenes, as well as monochromatic murals – Hudson River School style murals, are becoming our specialty.
Always a bit idealistic and aesthetically classic, Arteriors’ landscape murals are a bridge between decorative and fine art painting.
Contact Arteriors today and commission a landscape mural of your own!